Steamboat Springs Electricity could be felt flowing through the metal bleachers of the Romick arena even before Steamboat Springs' Todd Lodwick crossed the finish line waving an American flag in victory.
"This was our best day ever," American coach Tom Steitz said after the races. "We had three in the top 11 and six in the top 31. We've never done that before."
While it was new territory for the American team, Lodwick may have had a few flashbacks as he made his way around the 15-kilometer course at the base of Howelsen Hill.
"Nothing beats the first one," Lodwick said. "But whenever you can win in front of the hometown crowd, it's special."
Lodwick won his first World Cup in December 1996, when he raced to victory in a two-jump, 15-kilometer event in Steamboat Springs. He recaptured some of that same energy Thursday as he passed in front of the grandstands at Howelsen Hill.
"The story was jumping," Steitz said. "We've gotten better in every World Cup this season. Jan-Erik (Aalbu, the jumping coach) is doing the job."
In the opening event of this year's World Cup in Steamboat, the Americans put four athletes in the top 20 after the jumping round.
Nordic combined, as the name indicates, combines the sports of ski jumping and cross-country racing into one event. Athletes usually jump first to establish a handicap, which is then transferred to their start in the cross-country race. The top jumper leaves first; the first skier to cross the finish line wins the race.
Leading the way for the Americans Thursday was Bill Demong of Steamboat Springs, who soared to second place in the jumping round and was just 10 seconds behind Germany's Jens Deimel heading into the 15-kilometer cross-country race. Deimel recorded jumps of 93 and 89 meters to win the jumping portion with 235 total points. Demong was a close second with efforts of 91 and 90 meters for 233 points.
Demong took the lead in the first lap on the cross-country course and held on to it through the second. He ran out of gas in the third lap but hung on to match his personal best World Cup finish in 11th place.
"I don't think that I could have skied any faster," Demong said after the race. "My legs felt like cement. I couldn't pick them up in that last lap."
Demong said after the race he may have been a little too "amped" as he headed out on the course. He had tried to relax by watching television during the lunch break, but it didn't help.
Lodwick jumped to eighth place and also set a determined pace on the cross-country course.
He took the lead in the second lap and never surrendered it as he crossed the finish line 39.6 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Felix Gottwald of Austria.
Ladislav Rygl of the Czech Republic turned in the third fastest cross-country time to finish 54.4 seconds off the pace.
Ronny Ackermann of Germany had the fastest cross-country time of the day (41 minutes, 57.4 seconds) and Lodwick (42.20.6) was second in the cross-country race.
"I was not surprised by the skiing of Toddy. He is a very good skier," Gottwald said after the race. "I just tried to ski my race and stick to the plan. I was pleased with my result today."
America's Johnny Spillane (19th) and Matt Dayton (20th) also jumped well on the opening day. Spillane moved up in the standings through two laps but fell off the pace in the final lap to finish 31st.
However, Dayton made a strong run in the cross-country race and moved up to his best World Cup finish ever sixth.
"I was psyched to have the fourth fastest cross-country time," Dayton said.
Dayton was a special cross-country skier until four years ago, when he decided to give nordic combined a try. On Thursday, he proved that if his jumping continues to improve, he will also be a factor on the World Cup A tour.
"This went way beyond my expectations and I'm way beyond pleased with the finish," Dayton said.
The nordic combined skiers will train today as they prepare for the final event of the Ski Town Classic on Saturday. The one jump, 7.5-kilometer sprint event will begin with jumping at 9 a.m. with the trial round. The cross-country race is scheduled to start at noon at the Romick rodeo arena.
"There is no place like Steamboat to jump-start your career or just get you going," Lodwick said. "I love coming here and racing at home."